May 21, 2008

Nothing against Bioshock

But does anyone else think it’s weird that on the one hand our vision gets called crazy…and on the other hand, it gets evaluated based on a video game?

Rich Nerds Want To Build A Utopian City In The Ocean And…Wait A Minute…

We all know what happened to Rapture. Nutty smart folks thought they could build a utopian world under the ocean, they couldn’t, whole thing went to the dogs, everybody died. We all learned a lesson. A lesson lost on three super-rich SIlicon Valley types (including the founder of PayPal), who have founded the the Seasteading Institute, with the goal of moving out into the ocean and creating a world "with diverse social, political, and legal systems". While their buildings won’t be built under the waves (they’ll be built atop them, on floating platforms), the basic principle remains: they’re going to get smug, they’re going to mess with things they shouldn’t mess with, everybody is going to die.

Sure, this is from a gamer blog, but based on comments to other blog posts this week, "That won’t work – look at Rapture" seems to be a fairly common sentiment.  While I think that fictional narratives such as video games are a great source of inspiration and emotional images, they are not exactly accurate models of reality. 

Take Ayn Rand’s Galt’s Gulch as an example.  On the one hand, it’s inspirational to read about a bunch of talented people getting together to make a new society.  On the other hand, I don’t think her models of operating a small independent economy, or expecting the rest of the world to fall apart without these people, are accurate.  Using them as the basis for a strategy would be foolish.  Instead, we want the seastead economy to be as interdependent as possible with the rest of the world.  Tropical Islands are poor, Hong Kong is rich – we want to be more like the latter than the former.

We can do the same sort of analysis for BioShock. There, the city’s owner/ruler demanded that the city maintain a closed economy; when supply and demand inevitably produced smuggling, he restricted trade, closed the transport links that allowed exit from the city, and nationalized his enemies’ property. This, combined with a healthy dose of class resentment, pretty much doomed the whole endeavor in exactly the obvious way.

This is close to the opposite of our philosophy. We want a maximally open economy, and we think that free exit is so important that we’ve called it the only Universal Human Right.  We certainly appreciate the comparison with a fictional universe that has such a powerful place in people’s hearts, and it’s fun to joke about – there will definitely be some homages to BioShock on our prototype platform.  But we’d also appreciate it if, when it comes to evaluating our idea, people dug into the details rather than using superficial similarities.  Also, it’s good to keep in mind that fiction is often a poor mirror for the real world.  After all, plenty of things like this have been tried , and many of them ended badly, but never as badly as everybody died.